In addition to parades, corned beef, and an abundance of green attire, last week’s St. Patrick’s Day also saw Congress pass the most recent stopgap measure to fund the federal government and avoid a shutdown. This bill gives the nation another three weeks (to April 8th) until the federal government’s funding is due to expire again. Yet, rather than represent a sustainable budgetary plan for the remainder of the fiscal year, the collection of short-term funding bills to date have solely been about cuts, cuts, and more cuts. What seems to have been omitted from the conversation is what such deep and repeated cuts will mean for government policy that does good work.

And good government policy does do good work.

This message is exemplified in the new report from the New York City Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO). The aptly titled report, “Policy Affects Poverty”, details the vital role played by government policy decisions on behalf of low-income families during the height of the recession. By CEO’s calculation, a set of key policy changes on the federal level and strategic implementation on the local level combined to not only prevent poverty in New York City from rising an additional three percent during the worst of the economic downturn, but resulted in the city having a lower poverty rate in 2009 than it had in 2007 – before the recession truly began.

Such a feat was achieved through important American Recovery and Reinvestment (ARRA) expansions of tax programs for low-income families and increased SNAP (food stamp) benefit levels, among other things. The positive effects of these policy changes were then magnified by local policy changes designed to further expand access to these programs to populations in need. Concluding the report is an important statement that “calls for across-the-board cutbacks to programs that help low income families cannot be justified by the assertion that when it comes to poverty, ‘nothing works’”.

Tossing around the idea that “nothing works” is easy to do when faced with pages and pages of mind-numbing budget numbers and a looming deficit. But what indiscriminant cuts to safety net and social service programs do is ignore not only the successes of these programs (successes that arguably save the government money in the long run), but also the people that bring these programs to life – the families who benefit and the staff who serve them.

The voices of these people are beginning to be elevated though – primarily thanks to a new campaign by Half in Ten and the Coalition on Human Needs and their creation of a story bank of testimonies of individuals’ real-life experiences with job training programs, housing subsidies, nutrition assistance, unemployment insurance, and more. The personal stories from beneficiaries of these programs are powerful, as are the descriptions from staff who work for programs such as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition assistance, and who clearly derive great value and satisfaction from their jobs.

But so long as the Congressional budget ax continues to fall (and fall disproportionately) on the esoteric category of “non-security discretionary” funding, these are the programs being cut. And these are the voices of those who will suffer the most.

  • To access the Half in Ten story bank, click here.
  • To access information on how to submit a story yourself, click here.
  • To access First Focus resources on how children are faring in the federal budget, click here.